Wednesday, April 24, 2024

EDITORIAL: Time to act on the gun violence


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WE HAVE BEEN TOLD that when illegal drugs come into the island they are often accompanied by illicit firearms.

We heard that guns enter through ports of entry other than the Bridgetown Port.

Authorities in law enforcement have expressed concern that operators of legitimate fishing vessels were entering the island with illegitimate cargo, including firearms.

With tens of thousands of shipping barrels entering Barbados each year, most in the weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays, law enforcement officials have also expressed fears that these may be a conduit for illegal weapons.

The ubiquitous 20- and 40-foot shipping containers have been known to hide all manner of illegal weapons among legitimate cargo, and those entering our port are not immune.

And authorities have said for years that the open nature of our coastline, where almost every beach can be a landing spot, compounds the problem by providing potential avenues for those who want to avoid detection.

We have heard it all for many years, and we have no reason to believe that those who are responsible for national security are not genuinely serious about tackling the problem. The fact of the matter, though, is that if this weekend’s gunplay and resulting deaths are anything to go by, then we have missed the mark by far. It must now be absolutely clear to even the most uninformed Barbadians that the volume of illegal guns in the hands of people who are prepared to use them is quite high.

It is time to stop talking and take some real action. Even in these times of limited public finances, we have to ensure, for example, that not one shipping barrel enters the country this Christmas without being subjected to a thorough electronic scan. The technology is too common and pervasive these days for us to rely so heavily on manual checks, unless those checks are for the purpose of assessing customs duties.

We cannot let limited resources curtail the capacity of the Coast Guard to have all its vessels operational and on patrol around the clock. If we fail to spend the money on prevention, we will end up spending even more on crime detection and housing the culprits in prison.

It is also incumbent on authorities to plug all gaps in the coastal radar system used to keep track of vessels entering and moving within our territorial waters. And we refer to gaps that exist because there is a need for more towers as well as those that do not now function.

Where necessary, we have to demonstrate as a country that we are not afraid to change customs, especially when they expose us all to mortal danger. While our fishermen have been accustomed for generations to leaving and entering the country as they please, it is clear that our failure to control these movements is allowing people intent on doing harm to literally get away with murder. Clearly, some boats are returning to port with more than flying fish and dolphin, and if these operators believe they can get away with crime, they will continue to engage in it.

Yes, much of the violence may surround the illegal drugs trade, and many of those who die in this violence may be operatives of the business, but many innocent Barbadians could find themselves being victims of collateral damage if we don’t put up a more worthwhile challenge to these criminals.

Over the weekend the gun violence unfolded in Airy Hill in St Joseph, Clifton Hall in St John, and Black Rock in St Michael. But none of us can offer a guarantee it will not be our district tomorrow. We trust, therefore, that what occurred over the weekend serves as a wake-up call to us all and that Barbadians recognise that doing nothing is not an option.


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